Heaven On Earth
We’re soaring over a vast expanse of sea. For a while, there is nothing but a flat carpet of deep blue water beneath us, the monotony broken up only by the occasional white-capped wave, the shadow of a cloud or, indeed, the shadow of the six-seater private plane that only just minutes ago took off from Nadi International Airport. This is the Pacific Ocean and this is Fiji’s portion of the Pacific Ocean. Where are we heading? When will we get there? What adventures lie ahead? The answer is on the horizon. In the distance, a long thin chain of islands begins to appear. As ocean rushes up to meet beach, golden stretches of sand and crystal blue shallows appear. These are Fiji’s Yasawa Islands, which lie some 40 km from the main island of Viti Levu… stretching northwards in an unbroken line for over 40km. Some 20 islands make up this haven, each prized for its pristine nature. We fly on by above them, heading to largest node of the archipelago – Yasawa. Less than a kilometre wide but piercing northeast for over 22km, Yasawa seems incredibly narrow from up here. An uninterrupted spine of hills bisects the island into two steep halves, covered in lush vegetation. It is difficult to see where, or even how, we will land. Is there a runway? Or perhaps the beach?
But wait. There is a clean break in the trees. A green lawn cuts perpendicularly across the island, a momentary field of light green amidst a blanket of trees. We swing around in a graceful circle to the island and approach the grassy runway. It seems incredibly short from up here. Precariously short. I hope it can hold us, but right now I’m more intent to capturing the approach on camera – a spectacular short video that would garner thousands of social media likes. A little bump, a taxi and a turn, and the plane halts. What a way to be introduced to Yasawa Island Resort.
The only resort on this vast island – and a full-board, five-star one at that – Yasawa Island Resort (from US$1,000 per night) is paradise found. Paradise in the form of the stunning surroundings, but also paradise in the warmth of the welcome – from the chorus of booming bula! (the traditional Fijian greeting) to a musical song of welcome at the lobby. There are 15 words in the Fijian language that mean Heaven. Yasawa is the first of those and it is easy to see why.
Laid out like a string of pearls along the private beach are 18 bungalows, each hidden among lush foliage. Known as bure, each bungalow blends into its lush environment with its dark wood and cream walls. At this level of hospitality, one might expect ultra-modernity in the interior – full of sleek luxurious minimalism. Half of that equation is definitely there, but the vibe is decidedly more laidback. Yasawa Island Resort does not aspire to the cutting edge, but to the heart and soul of Pacific island life. Fans provide indoor breeze under a tall traditional roof shaped like the keel of a ship, rustling a wonderfully cosy interior with vibrant tropical furnishings. The bed faces the beach, which itself faces northwest – the canvas for a slow watercolour painting of sunrise or a spectacular sunset. With the beach just outside and a hammock to enjoy the view with (preferably with a glass of Champagne), this could be Heaven.
And there is plenty to do in Heaven. With most activities available as part of the stay, choose from going underwater, frolicking on water or just gazing over paradise in solitude. Ten private beaches surround the resort. Say the word and you can be dropped off on one of these perfect cocoons with nothing but a picnic basket and imagination for an entire day. Below the waves, the volcanic nature of the Yasawas have created stunning coral formations and ocean drop-offs. Neophytes can pick up the habit of a lifetime by learning how to scuba dive at the resort’s PADI dive centre, while experienced divers can go off in search of close encounters of the underwater kind that few divers have even seen. For a touch of glamour – and adventure – guests can also head to the southern tip of the island for the watery caves of Sawa-i-Lau, the setting for the classic Hollywood movie The Blue Lagoon.
After all this exploration, pampering is recommended… for Brooke Shields and everyone else. Why not indulge in the resort’s Baravi Spa, where Heaven comes in the form of attentive rejuvenation with a sweeping view. An encyclopaedic menu offers a bewildering variety of treatments, which could present a conundrum for choice were it not for a clever offering – Yasawa Island Resort offers a fixed-fee Ultimate Spa Special, with a 50-minute treatment every day of a guest’s stay now matter how long. Under the gaze of a blessed sun, aches and pains melt away under the skillful fingers of Baravi Spa’s therapists.
Brilliant daylight gives way to velvety darkness. The stars seem to shine brighter here – after all, there are no city lights to outshine them – glimmering to the rhythmic sound of lapping waves. This is the quintessential idea of idyllic Pacific getaway… which is why some guests come to stay for weeks on end. Stress and the urban headache seem a million miles away while sipping a cocktail at the resort bar in conversation with fellow enchanted guests. Or indeed sitting down to a dinner that seems and tastes to have been prepared in a Michelin-starred kitchen; a triumph of skill and ingredients given the resort’s remoteness. The resort also regularly throws a lovo, a traditional Fijian feast where ingredients – either meat, vegetables or roots – are wrapped in banana leaves and left to cook in an underground pit filled with hot coals, resulting in a slightly smokey, completely tender banquet.
You might think that is the perfect end of an evening. But this is Fiji. So, no stay is complete without a kava ceremony. The elder of the nearby village – which also supplies the resort with much of its workforce – arrives with a large, shallow-bottomed wooden bowl. This is the receptacle for the kava – a mildly intoxicating liquid made from the root of the indigenous kava plant. For any guest to Fiji, this is a rite that is de rigueur. The elder speaks of the ties of friendship and the beauty of the Fijian welcome as he creates the watery mixture and hands out bowls of the slightly muddy-tasting liquid. As it hits the tongue, a tingly feeling of happiness washes over, as we, the visitors, are welcomed first as guest, and then as family, of the resort and Fiji.
Heaven comes in many forms and guises. The Fijian language gives that concept subtle inflections through 15 different words – the biblical Heaven, a paradise, an atmosphere – since Heaven could be a place, a time, a person, a feeling. It would be impossible to summarise all these concepts in a single manner, but Yasawa Island Resort comes very close. Holding a long Champagne flute while sitting on soft powdery sand while the celestial brush paints the sky in gradients of blues, purples and oranges, we are on the edge of Heaven here. Amen.